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Oil corporations cutting back due to low oil prices

Repost from The Wall Street Journal

Chevron Posts Lowest Quarterly Profit in Five Years

Oil Major to Pare Capital Budget by 13%, End Buybacks to Offset Low Crude-Oil Prices

By Daniel Gilbert and Chelsey Dulaney, Jan. 30, 2015
Chevron
Gas prices are displayed at a Chevron fueling station in Richmond, Calif. in April Photo: Bloomberg News

Chevron Corp. said it would trim ambitious spending plans and stop buying back its shares as the collapse in oil prices erased billions of dollars from the company’s cash flow.

The San Ramon, Calif., company on Friday reported $3.5 billion in profit for the last three months of 2014, down 30% from a year ago and its lowest since the 2009 recession.

It also outlined plans to spend $35 billion this year to find and tap oil and gas, a 13% cut from last year’s budget, in response to oil prices that have slumped more than 60% since the summer to under $50 a barrel.

With less cash coming in, the company is suspending its share buyback program for 2015, which had cost $5 billion a year since 2012. Repurchasing shares shrinks the number available to the public and tends to increase their value. Its shares were down 67 cents at $102.33 in recent trading.

John Watson , Chevron’s chief executive, said the company remains on track to pump the equivalent of about 3.1 million barrels a day by 2017—20% more than its current levels—despite spending less. Oil prices must rise, he said, because companies won’t invest enough to make up for the natural declines of existing oil and gas wells, eventually reducing supplies.

“The projects that are going to meet demand going forward are more complex than 20 or 30 years ago, and so the costs of the projects will be higher, and will require a higher price than we’re seeing today,” Mr. Watson said.

Chevron’s spending plans remain ambitious relative to its rivals and its shrinking cash flow. On Thursday, Occidental Petroleum Corp. said it would spend a third less on producing oil and gas this year; ConocoPhillips said it would chop 15% off its capital budget, on top of a 20% cut in December; Royal Dutch Shell PLC said it would spent $15 billion less than planned over three years. Exxon Mobil Corp. , the biggest U.S. energy company, reports results on Monday.

Chevron generated $6.5 billion from its operations in the fourth quarter of 2014, down 38% from a year ago, but still better than analysts’ expectations. Unless oil prices rebound significantly, that rate of cash generation isn’t likely to cover the company’s spending on exploration and production, plus dividend payments that totaled $7.9 billion last year.

Even before oil prices fell, Chevron had been spending at a deficit, dipping into its pile of cash and borrowing more money. The company’s debt rose to $27.8 billion by the end of 2015, doubling in two years and marking the highest it has been in at least 20 years, according to data compiled by S&P Capital IQ.

The company still has $12.8 billion in cash, but that is about $3.5 billion less than at the beginning of 2014. Patricia Yarrington, Chevron’s finance chief, said it could borrow “tens of billions of dollars” more. And Mr. Watson, the CEO, said that while acquisitions aren’t a priority, “We are actively screening opportunities that are out there and we’ll take advantage of opportunities that we see.”

Overall, Chevron reported earnings of $3.47 billion, or $1.85 a share, down from $4.93 billion, or $2.57 a share, a year earlier. Results included a net $570 million gain on asset sales. Revenue fell 18% to $46.1 billion.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had forecast earnings of $1.63 a share and revenue of $30.65 billion.

Chevron’s bottom line was helped by foreign-currency effects, which have been a drag on many U.S. companies’ results recently. Chevron said foreign currency helped its earnings by $432 million in the quarter, up from $202 million a year earlier.

The pain from lower oil prices was cushioned by Chevron’s business of refining crude into fuels like gasoline and diesel. The refining business, which in recent years has accounted for less than 15% of its profits, provided $1.5 billion in earnings–44% of the company’s total. Refining profits nearly quadrupled from a year ago, due to a combination of better margins and asset sales.

The fall in oil prices masked the company’s success at pumping more oil, as it began reaping petroleum from two major projects in the Gulf of Mexico’s deep waters in the last months of 2014. But overall, Chevron’s oil and gas output slipped about 1% from a year ago. On Friday, the company said production could increase up to 3% this year.

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